In what ways
does the Greek concept of eudaimonia differ from
our own concept of happiness?
Primarily, the Greek concept of eudaimonia is
a much more public matter than our concept of happiness. We tend
to think of happiness as an emotional state, whereas the Greeks
treat eudaimonia as a measure of objective success.
It would be unthinkable for a Greek that a beggar could have eudaimonia, while
a successful businessman and eminent public figure could suffer
from depression and still have eudaimonia.
What is Aristotle’s
Doctrine of the Mean? In what ways is it different from the Christian
conception of virtue?
The Doctrine of the Mean maintains that virtue
is a mean state between the vicious extremes of excess and deficiency. While
this does not provide us with a strict formulation, it does make
clear that finding the virtuous path is a matter of steering a middle
course between the vices of too much and too little. Because both
excess and deficiency are vices, Aristotle’s virtues and vices are
listed in threes: a vice of excess and a vice of deficiency to accompany
By contrast, Christian conceptions of virtue are generally
based on polar oppositions and are classed in pairs. For instance,
the virtue of humility is contrasted with the vice of pride. The
marked difference between Aristotle’s and the Christian beliefs,
then, is that for Aristotle, vice and virtue are intimately connected.
The virtuous disposition that might lead a person to be courageous
can be taken just a little too far and become the vice of rashness.
A Christian virtue cannot be “taken too far” and become a vice,
since vice is an opposite to virtue in the Christian view.
How does Aristotle
define moral responsibility? Why does he not define free will? How
might he define free will?
Aristotle gives us a negative definition
of moral responsibility. He tells us that we are responsible for
those actions we do voluntarily, and then tells us that involuntary
actions are those done out of ignorance or compulsion. There are
some gray areas as to what counts as excusable ignorance and what
counts as forgivable compulsion, but we are told effectively that
we are responsible for all our actions that are not performed in
ignorance or under compulsion.
Aristotle’s interest is solely in when and how
to assign praise and blame. He is not concerned with the metaphysical
or psychological questions of what motivates blameworthy action
or to what extent it is preventable. As such, he takes no interest
in the question of free will.
It would be anachronistic to assign a theory of free will
to Aristotle, since the will generally finds no significant application
in his philosophy. However, it might make sense to borrow from his distinction
between voluntary and involuntary action, and suggest that free
will consists of the freedom to act voluntarily.